You’ll have heard of Burns’ Night (January 25) and you may well have enjoyed haggis once or twice – but what does the date mark – and why do hundreds of thousands of Scots celebrate it annually?

Commemorating the life and poetry of poet Robert Burns, the author of many Scots poems, the evening – which tends to include a traditional ‘Burns’ night supper’ – sees families and friends come together to enjoy a regionally inspired feast. Combining haggis, ‘neeps’ (a yellow-orange Scottish vegetable) and ‘tatties’ (potatoes), the meal usually features whisky – and lots of poetry, fun and laughter.

An Annual Tradition

If you’re wondering when the very first Burns’ supper was held, it was way back in July 1801, with the occasion seeing nine of the poet’s close friends getting together to mark five years since Robert passed away. 

The evening took place at Burns’ Cottage in Alloway and included haggis, a performance or two of Robert’s work and a speech in honour of him. The night was so successful, they decided to hold it again – but this time in honour of his birthday. The rest, as they say, is history – and the tradition continues to brighten homes and public venues in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

For those who fancy hosting their very own Burns’ Night Supper in a café, restaurant or bar, The Visit Scotland site offers some 15-second videos to give you a flavour of a Burns’ Night meal. Meanwhile, this article in The Telegraph rounds up some of the very best Scottish recipes to try.

The site suggests Burns’ Night doesn’t have to be about haggis and haggis only. Instead, you can put your own twist on the authentic dish or serve other favourite foods of the Scots. Beef stew can follow hearty cock-a-leekie soup or smoked salmon, for example, while dessert could include classic Burns’ Night choice, Cranachan – a tasty blend of creams, raspberries, toasted oats and a little whisky.

If you’re thinking of introducing an annual Burns’ Night supper to your venue, consider following tradition to the letter. Visit Scotland says the evening usually starts with a few words from the host, followed by a reading of the Selkirk Grace.

After the starter, the host should perform ‘Address to Haggis’, before everyone toasts the haggis itself. After the meal, the first Burns recital is performed – the Immortal Memory. The main tribute to Burns, it’s followed by the second Burns recital. 

Then, there’s a Toast to the Lassies, followed by a Reply to the Toast to the Lassies, and the Final Burns recital. Once the host has given a vote of thanks to end the evening, everyone sings Auld Lang Syne while crossing their arms and joining hands. The BBC has more details here, if you’re planning to get involved with the celebrations.

Jamie Oliver’s On Board

Burns Night is such a key event on the food calendar that a raft of internationally renowned chefs love taking part in the tradition. Jamie Oliver has produced plenty of recipes which are perfect for your in-pub or restaurant events – just make some tweaks to ensure they’re your own. Try incorporating seasonal produce or foraging for ingredients that will help you create a Burns Night supper to remember.

Meanwhile, Gordon Ramsay hosted a Burns Night Supper of epic proportions back in January this year, featuring four Scottish themed courses, alongside Macallan whisky pairings and whisky cocktails. His menu for the evening includes traditional Cullen Skink and Clootie Pudding, as well as smoked salmon, truffle bon bons, and a Scottish cheese selection.

Perhaps this article has provided a little food for thought for anyone who’s considering putting on their very own Burns’ Night Supper. There’s even a vegetarian Burns’ Night menu here, for those who are keen to offer a plant-friendly alternative for diners who don’t eat meat.

There’s even a Robert Burns app, so you can immerse yourself in all things Burns Night. Go on; take a look and plan a Burns’ Night celebration like no other.